Family Fridays – The Boxcar Children

Book: The Boxcar Children (1924) by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Series: The Boxcar Children

Category/Age: Early Reader / Beginning Chapter Book :  ages 6 and up

Blurb:

One Warm Night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from.” So begins Gertrude Chandler Warner’s beloved story about four orphans who run away and find shelter in an abandoned boxcar. There they manage to live all on their own, and at last, find love and security from an unexpected source.

Review:

Let’s pause for a moment, shall we? 1924. This book was published in 1924. That’s just a few years after the end of the first world war – and 90 years ago. The language does feel a bit dated in places, but not nearly as much as you might think. This classic has been beloved for almost a century because it’s easy to read, and just plain fun.

I’ve always been a sucker for survival stories, from Julie of the Wolves to The Martian (review forthcoming). The nitty-gritty, mundane details of survival I always find fascinating, and this book falls solidly into the survival genre for much of the book, which I hadn’t remembered going into it. Where do they sleep? What do they cook in? Where do they get clean? Those types of details are answered in a realistic way for the children, and you can definitely see why it would resonate in the minds of young readers – it’s like the ultimate game of playing house.

As an adult, my only quibble with the book was how fast the ending was resolved – I felt like the major conflict set up (with the grandfather) was glossed over for expediency – but overall this is a fantastic chapter book for early readers.

I vaguely seem to remember reading dozens of the other books, and enjoying them greatly as well.

Did you read The Boxcar Children in your childhood? What did you think?

Get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Family Fridays – Pre Christmas Three

Here’s the third Pre Christmas set of recommendations. By the way, how is it already mid-November?!?

A Little House Christmas Treasury: Festive Holiday Stories: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

This enchanting collection of Christmas stories will delight and entertain the elementary school aged crowd. If you have the Little House books, you could of course just find all the Christmas bits and read them together, but if you don’t have them, this might be a fun way to see if your family likes the series. I remember being fascinated by the way children lived in that time and place when I was young, and am hoping my son will enjoy them when he’s old enough. You could also do some subtle, “Hey, Laura was excited to get TWO pieces of candy in her stocking, maybe you could be happy even if you don’t get all of the Star Wars Lego sets this year.” Or you could just enjoy one family’s celebration of Christmas.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): Amazon, Barnes & Noble

This is where I’m going to get arrested by the Children’s Blog Police…I don’t like Peanuts. There, I said it. I think it’s depressing and painful, not funny. However, A Charlie Brown Christmas might be one of the most powerful, lasting, and succinct (it’s only 25 minutes) movies about Christmas that I’ve ever seen. Though nearly fifty years old, it is more timely today than ever. Here’s the blurb: “Repelled by the commercialism he sees around him, Charlie Brown tries to find the true meaning of Christmas.” That could be written today, and I suspect could be written about a movie in another fifty years. Near the end, Linus quotes the Christmas story from the Bible [spoiler alert: that’s the true meaning of Christmas]. It’s hard to see that happening on a show produced today. Anyways, I think this is a fantastic Christmas movie, AND it’s appropriate for all ages.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Family Fridays – Pre-Christmas One

Welcome to Christmas Season! No, don’t run away – at least let me explain. While I try very hard to stifle the Christmas spirit until it’s legally allowed (post-Thanksgiving meal in our house), one thing that I am allowed to discuss during the year is Christmas presents. I hate waiting until the last minute, and the sooner I have my presents picked out the happier I am. Therefore, I’m going to use the Family Fridays in November to talk about some great Christmas books and movies, in case you want to give any as presents, or if you want to have them on hand for when you are ready to start celebrating.

I love the idea of giving Christmas-themed books or movies as presents, but if they don’t get opened until December 25, you have an extremely small window to enjoy them. I’ve decided to start a tradition of giving a little something on December 6, Saint Nicolas’ Day (and Christmas pajamas, for the same reason), for us to enjoy throughout the month (I’ve been debating back and forth on whether my husband’s pajamas from St. Nick will be something he would like, such as basic plaid, or something truly epic, like penguins wearing Santa hats while sledding down a pine tree covered hill). As a side note, we also observe (in a small way) Epiphany, or King’s Day (the traditional twelve days of Christmas is essentially Christmas Day to Epiphany), which is January 6, so that is literally a month of Christmas. I couldn’t be happier about it.

Anyways, back to the main point. If you want to try some of these things out before springing them on your family (or if you want to get started earlier!) you can find many of these things at a library, and the movies can be rented online, or through a service like RedBox. Amazon Prime Instant Video and Netflix also have a selection of Christmas movies.

To kick things off, I present:

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (1972): Amazon, Barnes & Noble

This is a wonderful, wonderful book and one of my absolute favorite Christmas books. A hilarious tale of what happens when six of the worst kids you’ll ever meet take over the local church’s Christmas Pageant. I cannot recommend this highly enough. The chapters are the perfect length for reading out loud together in the evenings. Even if you’re an adult with no kids, this is worth a read and sure to bring at least a smile or two.

The Snowman (1982 – movie version): Amazon

Though originally a book first published in 1978 by Raymond Briggs, it is as a movie that I know and love this story. The book is completely without words, as is the movie, apart from a few introductory lines. I’m finding it difficult to put into words why I love this movie so much – it’s some combination of the music and the visuals and having watched it nearly every year for a couple of decades now. It’s a charming tale, though with a bittersweet ending, about a young boy and (obviously) the snowman he builds in his yard. Cuddle up with some hot chocolate and some loved ones and start a new family tradition.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Family Fridays – Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

Book: Danny the Champion of the World (1975)

Genre: Children’s General

Ages: 7-12

Blurb:

Can Danny and his father outsmart the villainous Mr. Hazell?

Danny has a life any boy would love—his home is a gypsy caravan, he’s the youngest master car mechanic around, and his best friend is his dad, who never runs out of wonderful stories to tell. But one night Danny discovers a shocking secret that his father has kept hidden for years. Soon Danny finds himself the mastermind behind the most incredible plot ever attempted against nasty Victor Hazell, a wealthy landowner with a bad attitude. Can they pull it off? If so, Danny will truly be the champion of the world.

A young English boy describes his relationship with his father and the special adventure they share together.

Review:

Roald Dahl was quite the interesting character, and wrote many beloved children’s books. I would recommend reading the synopsis before buying a title you are unfamiliar with, as some of his stories contain morals that you may not want to pass on to your children. For example, George’s Marvelous Medicine is about a boy who murders his grandmother through poison, but it’s ok because she’s mean. I will say that the writing is so fun and captivating that I didn’t notice these things as a child, it’s only now that I look back on it that I’ve realized some of the ethics are a bit…questionable.

Danny the Champion of the World is a delight to read, for both children and adults. It does glorify illegal poaching, but it is really about the great relationship between Danny and his father. So many children’s books feature orphans, cruel step-parents, or otherwise dysfunctional or nonexistent families that it is refreshing to see the bond between a father and son celebrated. Danny and his father are always doing fun new things together (and none of them involve a TV! Imagine!). Some other positive themes of the book are the enjoyment of nature and the importance of education. This is a book that I can’t wait to share with my son when he’s older. Fans of Dahl might also recognize the Big Friendly Giant, one of my favorite stories of his, which started out life as a bedtime story told to Danny in this book.

There was a movie adaptation, which I haven’t seen in decades, but I remember as being really well done. My mom also remembers it as a delightful film, so I’m going to go ahead and give it the Lector’s Books stamp of approval (and it’s going on the list for my next library visit!).  It stars Jeremy Irons and his real life son (and his father-in-law as the doctor), and Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid, to you Harry Potter fans) as the baddie. (Oh no! I just looked for it online and it’s only available on VHS! Hopefully they’ll rerelease it onto Blu-Ray or DVD soon.)

At the very end of the book, after the story is done, Dahl included this: “A message to Children Who Have Read This Book. When you grow up and have children of your own do please remember something important. A stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY.” Don’t be afraid to have fun with your kids – take inspiration from this book and fly a kite, or try out some stilts, or do something completely unexpected and different.

Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

What are your favorite Roald Dahl books? What’s something fun that you’ve done either with your own kids or with your parents when you were a kid?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.